Siddhartha (1951)- Herman Hesse
Verdict: Try it.
Siddhartha is one of the most famous novels of all time. It follows the physical and spiritual life a man from his youth into adulthood. While Siddhartha does have a narrative arc, it feels generous to call this a novel, not because of its length, but because it is more or less a vehicle for Herman Hesse to pass down his particular philosophy. That’s not to say Siddhartha is bad, in fact my translation by Hilda Rosner, is particularly beautiful. Also, the three main characters of the novel are fascinating and, despite what others might say, are, to me, three dimensional.
It is said that Siddhartha parallels that of the Buddha himself, and from what I know that’s true enough. But I think this book is worthy of another comparison: Ecclessiastes. Both contain wisdom from a man who has experienced everything. The major difference is that, while Ecclesiastes, minus the last few verses, by in large interprets life pessimistically, Siddhartha interprets life in an eternal optimism.
Strong critics of eastern philosophy won’t have their minds changed by this one. At the same time, I think it is impossible to call Siddhartha anything but life-affirming. It is clear that Hesse had a very profound way of looking at the world. Try it.